Will That Thing Really Change Your Life?

by Paul Michael on 19 August 2010 8 comments

Will it make you happy? Will it bring you the endless hours of joy that you imagine when you look at it? What thing am I talking about? Well, it's different for every person, but it's usually a material possession that you dream about often. And more often than not, it won't make any real difference to your life at all.

I was pondering this one recently when my family and I took the dog for a walk around a more expensive neighborhood. It was a beautiful evening, the perfect temperature, a slight breeze, and the sun was just starting to set. Ideal weather to be on that big deck in the back yard, sipping wine or ice cold beer and chatting about the day.

But we didn't see anyone doing that. Not a soul.

We saw plenty of beautiful decks, and even more beautiful yards. We looked at these decks with envious eyes, as we've always wanted one of our own in our tiny back yard. And yet, after passing more than 100 homes and seeing not one family out there enjoying the evening, I began to wonder if the deck really would change our life. Or maybe we would be just like these people, all of them stuck inside watching a 52-inch LCD TV.

And that's the crux of the matter I think. For many people, those "things" are an attempt to reach out and live the life they think they should be living. In the case of the deck in the back yard, it's not about a wooden structure that looks nice; it's about spending quality time with family away from the small screen, taking in fresh air and wearing those genuinely happy smiles that you see in catalogs and on TV.

But when it comes down to it, those "things" can't change who you really are or what you really want. Which is why those decks we saw were all empty, and the owners were all inside watching something they really did want: a huge TV.

It reminds me of a story the personal trainer at my gym was telling me. One of the people he used to train had no equipment at home, and complained that if he could only afford a home gym he'd do much better. The other guy was without a home gym, too, but found ways to train. He'd use the stairs, do push ups and sit ups, and do pull ups when he took his kids to the park. He basically used his own body as resistance.

The moral here is that when you want something badly enough, and are motivated, you'll find a way. And if you think that buying something will give you that, you're sadly mistaken. People who want to spend time outside with family will do it, regardless of what's in the yard. A $20 picnic blanket does the job and has served us well for years. Conversely, the addition of a deck isn't going to turn a bunch of TV addicts into the socialites of the neighborhood.

I know people who pined for home gyms and watched them gather dust. And we all have "miracle" gadgets that are sitting in some dark corner of the basement or garage, in pristine condition. Those infomercials make money because they tell you how much better life would be if you only had that "thing." Sadly, nothing you can buy will really fill the kind of hole they promise to fill. I remember wanting a Filofax back in the day, because I wanted to be super-organized and never forget a meeting or a birthday. I paid $80 for it and hardly ever used it. My friend paid $5 for a notebook and organized his life with it. He didn't need anything fancy, he was already motivated to get it done.

I think we all have something we wish for. Maybe it's a better car, a bigger house, or a piece of jewelry. Perhaps it's a boat, or a 200 square foot deck. Whatever it is, think hard about that purchase. As Shakespeare has said often, "to thine own self be true." Do you really want that "thing" or do you just want the idea of what it could bring you?

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Guest's picture
Rose

Great commentary, but you made me laugh at the end - "As Shakespeare has said often, 'to thine own self be true.'" I don't think Shakespeare has said anything for quite a while, although he did give this line to one of his characters once! However, joking aside, this article does a good job reminding us to that we ultimately have the responsibility for our own happiness. Thank you.

Paul Michael's picture

I see your point, I meant Shakespeare has often been quoted. But I'll leave it, maybe it will give other people a similar chuckle!

Guest's picture
cavale

This is exactly the kind of content I subscribe to Wise Bread to. There's been some really unsettlingly disappointing articles of late, but articles like this make me want to keep reading a while longer.

Paul Michael's picture

What a wonderful comment, thank you so much for that. If there's anything you'd like myself or another Wise Bread writer to cover, please let us know. I am always happy to take suggestions for topics.

Guest's picture
Guest

I totally agree.
My own story is dreaming of a fixed up garage so my boys would have a place to bring their friends and hang out. As a single parent it meant a lot to know where my 2 sons were. My vision was a finished garage with a pool table in the middle where my sons and 4 or 5 of their buddies could hang out.
One day I came home from work and could hear a radio blasting in the back yard. Furious at the noise, I stormed back to find my 2 sons - and 4 or 5 of their buddies -skateboarding in the drained pool. They didn't need either the pool table or the pool to get together because they were motivated.

Guest's picture
Kris

When I saw the headline my first thought was "yes, it could". Then I read the article
and got your point. Yes, I want more "things". But not at the cost of the good things I already have - like a close family.

Guest's picture
Kyra

Generally speaking (there are exceptions, but they're specific and obvious and easily identifiable), if you have to bribe yourself to do something with a load of expensive Stuff, you don't want it enough to justify the expense.

It's the things you make happen despite poor equipment, that will get you your money's worth on a Stuff upgrade---but then, of course, it's entirely possible that you'll find that new equipment is superfluous.

Shifting your desire from the perceived solution to the thing you expect it to bring you, and you can then consider alternate routes to it. Maybe you don't need a big deck, you need to get a cheap grill at a garage sale somewhere, and invite some friends over to a barbecue.

Guest's picture

Thank you so much for this post! When we buy on emotion and bypass logic, we end up buying all kinds of things we don't need. If it's something you really want, you can save up for it. By the time you have the money together, you should know whether it will really improve your life or not.